I LOVE national parks! It really is America’s best idea. The last national park we visited in 2017 was Badlands NP. We entered the park at Pinnacles entrance and initially, the park seemed to be a disappointment. It just seems like flat prairie land but in a few mins you see the impenetrable badlands terrain. We stopped for a few mins at the Pinnacles overlook which gives an amazing view of the landscape that is Badlands. Words and pictures do not do it justice. It looks so much more magnificent and breath taking than any of the pictures I’d seen online before visiting.
After this first stop we started driving along the 27 mile long Badlands Loop Road making multiple stops along the way. One of the first stops we made was at Panoramic view point. On one side you see steep canyons and layered rock formations. On the other side is mixed grass prairie. The almost sudden change in the landscape is mesmerizing.
Our next stop was visitors center to pick up a map and get some information about the park. There was a 20 minute video playing about the park so we watched it. The visitor center also has a Fossil prep lab where you can watch scientists work on the fossils discovered at the park in the shale layer. If you have kids or are travelling with kids, this is a great stop. It’s fun and exciting for all ages but its especially great for kids.
Badlands NP protects the largest grassland prairie in the country at 244,000 acre. Weather varies widely throughout the year. Winters are super cold while summers are very hot and dry. The land is eroding at a rate of about 1 inch per year so in about 100,000 years, Badlands NP will be gone. Bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, snakes, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets call this park home and roam free on the 64,000 acre of wilderness area within the park. Bison’s fur catches seeds and spreads it around the park as they roam. Bison are social animals and travel in large herds. However, if a bison can’t keep up with the herd, it’ll be left behind.
After a break at the visitor center, we wanted to complete the Badlands loop road while stopping along the way for short hikes. Our first hike of the day was a short 0.25 mile Fossil Exhibit Trail. It’s a very easy, 20 mins long trail that features fossil replicas of animals now extinct. If you visit in summer, make sure to pack A LOT of sunblock, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat. It can get very hot during the day time.
The next hike we went on was 0.5 mile long Cliff Shelf hike. It’s a relatively easy, half an hour long trail through a juniper forest. The trail climbs about 200 feet in elevation but most of the trail is along the boardwalk and some stairs. We saw a lot of wildlife on this trail including a few spotted deer and a cottontail rabbit just chilling on the trail. The hike is very picturesque and easy. Along the hike you get a birds eye view of the grasslands on one side and on the other you see the huge badlands peaks.
As we continued driving along the 27 mile long Badlands loop road, the third hike we went on was Window Trail. This is another very short and easy quarter mile hike along boardwalk. As we were walking, we saw something move on the side. We looked around and saw a snake go
under the boardwalk as we got closer. We quickly walked past and were glad the snake was under the boardwalk and not in front of us. The trail leads to a natural window in the Badlands wall and provides a view of the eroded canyon. There is no shade along the trail so even though it’s not a long or strenuous hike, it can be draining, especially since this was our third hike of the day. Make sure you have lots of sunblock and water in your car.
Our next stop along the Badlands Loop road was the Big Badlands view point. When we entered the park, I was blown away by the view at Pinnacles overlook. After spending more than half a day at the park, I was amazed by what I saw at the Big Badlands view point. It provides some of the most magnificent views of the badlands and all I could think was “WOW! Nature is amazing.”
By this point, we all needed to use the bathroom so we drove back to the visitor center. On the way there, we saw two bighorn sheep on the side of the road, snacking on the grass, just minding their own business. Of all the national parks and monuments I’ve visited, I’ve never seen so much wildlife as I had until this point at Badlands NP and the day isn’t even over yet! We didn’t get out of the car because these are wild animals and I didn’t want to antagonize them. Also, at national parks you’re supposed to leave the wildlife alone. We watched them for a few mins from the car before continuing on.
At the visitor center we asked the ranger if there is anywhere else we could see wildlife, specifically bison herds. The ranger suggested we drive to Sage Creek Road. He said around sunset, the chances of seeing wildlife are highest. He wasn’t kidding. On Sage Creek Road not only did we see a herd of bison (pic toward the top of the blog), we also saw a coyote, a pronghorn, a few deer and hundreds of prairie dogs. We didn’t see any black footed ferrets but their preferred source of food is prairie dogs.
It was getting to be evening and all of us were tired. Dinner time was approaching so we decided to call it a day. If we weren’t so tired, we would have liked to visit Wall Drug, a cowboy themed shopping mall with drug store, gift shop, restaurants and other stores all operated by a single entity. We saw signs for Wall Drug every where in South Dakota. Even today they offer coffee for 5 cents, same price from 1930s. It would have been cool to visit if we weren’t so tired.
The best part of the day, the cherry on top, was the sunset we got to see at the park. We got dinner at Katmandu Indian Restaurant in Rapid City. We placed a take our order when we were about half an hour away from the restaurant. It took them almost an hour to prepare the food. Sometimes I forget, the rest of the country doesn’t move at the same speed and NYC. The food, though, was surprisingly delicious. If you are in the mood for some good Indian food, look no further. Just be prepared to wait a while to get your order.
As I mentioned earlier, I LOVE national parks. Every national park has unique geology and landscape, from volcanoes to beaches to desert. I doubt any other national park will be able to even come close to the wildlife I saw at Badlands NP. I cannot wait to visit all 59 national parks. My current count is at 12 and hopefully I’ll add a few more in 2018.
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